July 08, 2008

Is The Conversation Over?

One of the axioms of Web 2.0 zealots is that "markets are conversations" and that online social media (blogs, networking websites, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) are uniquely capable of stimulating "conversations" among consumers.

Just one tiny problem. They're wrong.

On June 18, some facts arrived. And I think the social media maniacs are going to find the facts a little disturbing.

According to The New York Times, a study done by Yankelovich indicates that...
…”ads that made an impression in traditional media were more likely (emphasis mine) to stimulate word of mouth than ads that made an impression in digital media…
In other words, traditional media stimulated more "conversations" than digital media.

This is going to be very unsettling to the social media crowd. Although some acknowledge that social media marketing is alarmingly inefficient by standard measurements, they claim that the true value of social media is that it stimulates conversations among consumers which leads to "engagement" with the brand -- whatever the hell that means.

Well, I'm sorry guys, but the facts say something else. Not only does the report claim that traditional advertising creates more "conversations" than social media, it also reports that traditional advertising is about 50% more likely to make a positive impression, and about 50% less likely to make a negative one.

I expect the argument from social media militants will now be that social media reach a higher quality of person than traditional media -- the “who you reach is more important than how many you reach” -- argument. To me, this is an obnoxious, elitist, and self-congratulatory argument. And, as usual, it will be made without an ounce of data to support it.

As of now, the data say that traditional media are better at stimulating "the conversation" than digital media. And as we say around the agency, no one is smarter than the facts.

How will "social media" advocates deal with this finding? Simple. Just like ad agencies dealt with the findings from TiVo that consumers were more likely to watch a retail or direct spot than a brand spot. They'll ignore it.

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